Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Sikh Radicals, Great Britain Both Lose

Full Story here, hat tip Christdot.

Gurprett Bhatti is a Sikh playwright whose play titled Dishonor was scheduled to be performed at the Repertory Theatre in Birmingham, England. Dishonor contains scenes of murder and rape in a Sikh temple, which has offended a group of radical Sikhs. Maybe they should have been offended; I don't know whether the play's portrayal of the events in a Sikh temple was really an offensible act, but that's not essential to my point. The Sikhs definitely have a right to get together and protest the play, whether or not the protest is justified. What they don't have a right to do is this:

In Birmingham on Dec. 18, a mob of some 400 radical Sikhs stormed the Birmingham's Repertory Theatre prior to a performance of Gurprett Bhatti's play Dishonor. During the subsequent melee, 800 theatergoers had to be rushed from the theater, while the mob smashed doors, shattered windows, battered security guards, and destroyed equipment. Five police officers were injured in the brawl.

The Sikh protestors lose. Violent protests in order to infringe on the free speech of another? Great way to advocate your belief system.

But the story doesn't end there. Even though arrests were made (but only three out of four hundred protestors, BTW), British officials took the side of the Sikh protestors:

In the meantime the playwright has received the usual round of death threats, and local police have advised Ms. Bhatti -- herself a Sikh -- to keep her mouth shut. She is currently in hiding somewhere in Britain. As for her play, it was immediately shut down after local officials said they could not guarantee the safety of the audience and actors. . .

Thanks to draconian British hate speech laws -- Section 18 (1) of the Public Order Act outlaws speech that stirs up racial hatred -- Ms. Bhatti could theoretically end up paying heavy fines for instigating the riot or even serving hard time long after the violent protesters are set free.

That's right. The play was shut down because the protestors were creating an unsafe environment, and furthermore the playwright could be held liable for the protestors' actions.

The moral of the story? If you're ever in Britain and things aren't going your way, start throwing some punches. Officials will be only to happy to reward your temper tantrum and punish whoever your 'instigators' may be.

Great Britain, you lose.

PS: A few more quotes from the story:

We congratulate the theatre for making its decision after we exercised our democratic rights to protest. There are no winners and no losers. The end result is that commonsense has prevailed. --protestor spokeswoman Kim Kirpaljit Kaur Brom

Although today is a very sad day for freedom of speech, I think the Rep has done the right thing. --British Arts Minister Estelle Morris


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